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Trump Pardoned The Uber Engineer Who Wanted To Make An A.I. God

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Trump managed to wedge in a pardon for Anthony Levandowski, the engineer charged with fleeing Google for Uber with trade secrets in tow and got caught up in a massive lawsuit between those two pillars of Silicon Valley. All that and more in The Morning Shift for January 20, 2021.

1st Gear: Levandowski Pardoned

This is a pardon favored by old buddy of Elon Musk Peter Thiel, so I’m wary of it for a couple of reasons. Our sister site Gizmodo reports:

President Donald Trump issued a full pardon for former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski early Wednesday, one of 143 people who received pardons and commutations during Trump’s last 12 hours in office.

Levandowski, who helped found Google’s Waymo, was convicted in August of stealing trade secrets from Google and starting his own self-driving car company called Otto with the information. Levandowski sold his company to Uber but things became incredibly messy when the theft of trade secrets came to light.

Levandowski took over 14,000 files on Waymo’s self-driving car technology before he left and was ultimately sentenced to 18 months. However, he wasn’t scheduled to report to prison until the covid-19 pandemic was over.

The pardon for Levandowski came with the endorsement of Silicon Valley bigwigs Peter Thiel and Palmer Luckey, both strong supporters of President Trump.


My takeaway from the Levandowski saga is his time forming a religion for reasons that nobody could quite make clear, as we reported back in 2017:

Anthony Levandowski, the former Uber engineer and possible evil genius accused by Google’s self-driving car operation Waymo of stealing tech files and giving them to Uber—leading to a high-profile lawsuit—also founded a new religious organization years ago, according to a new profile in Backchannel, a digital magazine published on Wired.

The religion’s intent is to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.” It’s called Way of the Future.


Levandowski founded the religion in 2015, though it’s unclear if it went beyond some state filings, or even just the idea of it.


Hopefully Levandowski now has more time for making that Godhead and I can be freed from the prison of consciousness.

2nd Gear: Supreme Court Rules Against Climate Change Polluters For A Change

This is a somewhat complicated one, as the main drama is not that the Supreme Court ruled to make a company pay for climate damage, but that it snubbed a company trying to get an easier break in the federal courts. The New York Times explains:

The oral argument in BP P.L.C. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, No. 19-1189, was not about whether climate change is real or caused by greenhouse gases generated by humans. The hearing was not even about whether fossil fuel companies should pay Baltimore for the costs of climate change, which is the point of the underlying lawsuit.

Instead, the justices decided to hear the case on a single, highly technical legal question: What happens when a federal court sends a case to be heard in state courts? That is what has occurred in the Baltimore case, which began its life in state court, and which the fossil fuel companies are trying to move to federal court, where they expect a more favorable outcome. The question before the Supreme Court is whether, in hearing the appeal of a decision to send a case back to state court, a federal appeals court must limit its review to the two very specific and narrow reasons that the law allows, or whether it can look more broadly at the lower court’s decision.

About 20 climate cases like Baltimore’s have been filed by cities, counties and states nationwide since 2017 — first in California, then spreading across the country to include Colorado, Minnesota and Rhode Island, as well as Hoboken, N.J.

Anything that rules against giant polluting corporations is good in my book.

3rd Gear: Kia Is Playing Coy About Apple Car

Please enjoy this unbelievably weak attempt from Kia to try and take heat off of rumors it’s going to make Apple’s car for it.


Reuters reports that Kia is, uh, working with tons of companies, why do you ask?

Kia Corp. said on Wednesday it’s reviewing cooperation on self-driving electric vehicles with multiple foreign firms, making no mention of a report linking it to a project with tech giant Apple Inc.

Kia’s comment, issued in a regulatory filing as its shares surged nearly 20 percent in Seoul, came after domestic online publication Edaily reported late on Tuesday that Kia’s parent, Hyundai Motor Group, had decided Kia would be in charge of proposed cooperation with Apple on EVs. The report cited unnamed industry sources.

Hyundai Motor declined to comment. Apple was not immediately available for comment outside of U.S. business hours.


Why Kia and Apple are playing coy I do not know.

4th Gear: Dealer Group Fined For Making Employees Work For Free While Furloughed On Unemployment

I’m not going to say that all dealerships are horrible, but I was very much not surprised at this grift reported by Automotive News:

Colonial Automotive Group, one of the nation’s largest dealership groups, will pay a $1 million fine in a settlement with the Massachusetts attorney general to satisfy an allegation that it cheated the state’s unemployment system amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 16-store Acton, Mass., group near Boston is alleged to have violated the state’s False Claims Act by furloughing numerous sales employees who then collected unemployment even as they were asked to complete some work without pay. Colonial Automotive late last week entered into an assurance of discontinuance agreement promising to enact new policies that prohibit the practice.


This could all have been avoided by the federal government paying everybody to stay at home.

5th Gear: Jerry Wiegert Died

This news slipped through the cracks over the weekend, but it’s still worth mentioning that the huckster prophet behind Vector has passed away. Autoweek has a brief obituary worth reading:

Jerry Wiegert only ever made a handful of Vectors, but that almost didn’t matter. And despite perpetual fundraising troubles, publicity overloads and at least one lawsuit against a car magazine – ahem, Autoweek – he did what no American car company had ever done, fueled the supercar dreams of a generation with a made-in-America patriotism that would beat Ferrari and Lamborghini at their own games.

But first he had to make a supercar.

As Hagerty notes, he was 76.

Reverse: I Grew Up In The 90s And For Some Reason I Still Consider This A Cultural Touchstone


Neutral: Which Company Should Apple Partner With?

If not Kia, what company deserves to make a bunch of quickly obsolete machines with rounded edges?